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Sufism and Politics

Sufism has been described as an Islamic tradition that emphasizes interiorization of ritual prayer and an intense devotion to God. In its elementary form, the practice goes back to the days of the Prophet Muḥammad, who often retired to the Cave of Ḥirāʿ for prayer and meditation in isolation from worldly matters. During the same period, there were seventy Muslims known as Ahl al-Ṣuffah (People of the Platform) who lived in the Prophet's mosque and dedicated their lives to prayer without worrying about everyday life. The development of Sufism was a comment on the way worldly routines were organized. Ṣūfīs were critical of the formalism of various schools of fiqh (jurisprudence) and kalām (theology), and of the increasing gap between ordinary people and those who were in the position of authority and public administration, and they disapproved of the centralization of power. Early Ṣūfī groups developed in Kufa and Basra in Iraq, places that had witnessed gross violations of human dignity and life. By the second half of the ninth century, Ṣūfī groups challenged the ʿAbbāsid caliphs (750–1258) who had subordinated religious authority to the political leadership and co-opted the religious clerics to positions in their offices. The Ṣūfī response was to protect the independence of the Muslim community from interference by the state and ruling elite in matters of religious guidance.

By the middle of the thirteenth century, Ṣūfī orders organized around various spiritual guides or teachers existed throughout the Muslim world. They were institutionalized in community centers providing education, spiritual guidance, hospitality and often other social services. These centers were called zāwiyahs (in Arabic), khānqāhs (in Persian), and tekkes (in Turkish).

The rise of Western colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries presented Muslim societies with territorial and intellectual challenges. Ṣūfī orders responded to the colonial presence in their societies through accommodation, collaboration, or resistance. Ironically, although Ṣūfīs had tended to avoid political involvement, some of the more popular and cohesive Ṣūfī orders (ṭarīqahs) proved efficient channels for resistance and were politicized accordingly. Ṣūfī activism continued well into the twentieth century, often providing the inspiration for more overtly secular political movements.


Arguably the longest history of institutionalized and politically active Ṣūfī orders is in Egypt. In 1872 ʿAlī al-Bakrī, who belonged to the Bakrīyah ṭarīqah (established in the sixteenth century), supported Khedive Ismāʿīl against European intervention in Egypt and campaigned to keep him on the throne. The khedive's successor Tawfīq also relied on al-Bakrī to implement reforms in the ṭarīqahs. The youthful ʿAbd al-Bāqī al-Bakrī, who assumed responsibility for the ṭarīqahs in 1880, was unable to resist European pressure for reform, and various Ṣūfī ceremonies were banned or restricted. During the ʿUrābī insurrection of 1881, ʿAbd al-Bāqī supported the Khedive against the insurgents and entertained the commander of the occupying British forces. By contrast, the Khalwatīyah, a ṭarīqah outside al-Bakrī's jurisdiction, supported the rebels, as did the founding shaykhs of the Muḥammadīyah Shādhilīyah.

ʿAbd al-Bāqī was succeeded in 1892 by Muḥammad Tawfīq al-Bakrī, who reasserted the authority of establishment Sufism as the head of the new Ṣūfī Council (al-Majlis al-Ṣūfī) set up in 1895. In 1903 he amended the regulations in an attempt to reduce government involvement in the elections of the majlis and the appointment of mosque functionaries, but he was opposed by Prime Minister Muṣṭafā Fahmī, with the result that many Ṣūfī shaykhs owed their status and livelihood directly to the government.

From the turn of twentieth century, the ṭarīqahs came to be increasingly influenced by the climate of reformist activism as non-Ṣūfī groups gained political prominence, but most orders retained their traditional outlook. Their structure, if not their doctrines, even provided inspiration for non-Ṣūfī political organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn, founded 1928), which developed as an offshoot of the Ḥaṣāfīyah Shādhilīyah. Two ṭarīqahs, however, stand out for their expressly reformist and politically active character: the ʿAzamīyah Shādhilīyah, founded in 1915 in the Sudan, and the ʿAshīrah Muḥammadīyah order, officially recognized in 1951.

The political aspect of Sufism in Egypt has been confined to matters of doctrine or internal discipline. On February 15, 1979, the People's Assembly (Majlis al-Shaʿb) passed a resolution banning the writings of the Andalusian Ṣūfī Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) but reversed its decision under enormous pressure from Ṣūfīs.

The Hejaz.

As the spiritual center of the Muslim world, Mecca has always attracted a broad ethnic mix of pilgrims, providing a point for both the gathering and the dissemination of ideas. A combination of Wahhābī reformism and a growing awareness of Western political and territorial ambitions stimulated this process, which manifested itself in an upsurge of traditional ḥadīth scholarship and what Fazlur Rahman (Islam, Chicago, 1979, p. 195) calls “neo-Sufism.” This brand of Sufism laid more emphasis on political activism than on metaphysics and ecstasy. Reformist ṭarīqahs came to be known increasingly by the name “Muḥammadīyah,” reflecting a renewed emphasis on the sunnah; this name was applied to the Sanūsīyah, Khatmīyah, and Tijānīyah orders, and even to the Wahhābī movement. Sayyid Aḥmad Barelwī's Ṭarīqah-i Muḥammadīyah in India is also said to have been founded as a direct result of this Meccan influence.

Muḥammad ʿAlī gave the Hejazī ṭarīqahs the same recognition that he had afforded to those in Egypt, giving jurisdiction over those in Mecca and Jiddah to the head of the Khalwatīyah order. This made the Khalwatīyah of the Hejaz more amenable to the Ottoman government than were their Egyptian branches and lowered the political profile of other Hejazi ṭarīqahs. The exception to this was the Sanūsīyah, who exerted considerable influence from their zāwiyahs (lodges) in Mecca, Medina, Taif, Badr, al-Ḥamrāʿ, Yanbuʿ and Jiddah. Their power was such that the Turks were reluctant to use force against them and preferred to seek their cooperation. However, this did not prevent al-Sanūsī's being expelled from the region by the ʿulamāʿ (1840), and it is possible that the Ottoman government exerted covert influence to that end.


The Naqshbandīs enjoyed considerable influence in Syria in the early twentieth century; prominent among them was Aḥmad Jiznawī (Kurdish, Ehmedē Xizneve), who came to the Jazīrah from Turkey during the time of Atatürk and established a zāwiyah at Tall Maʿrūf. Also influential were the Rifāʿīs, who were subjected to repression in the 1970s.

Iraq and Kurdistan.

Naqshbandīs and Qādirīs are distributed in Iraq and Kurdistan according to tribal affiliation. Bitter feuding from the 1920s to the 1960s frequently pitted tribes such as the antiauthoritarian Barzānīs and the broadly pro-government Baradost against each other, with conflict even arising between branches of the same ṭarīqah. As was the practice in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) and Morocco, a number of shaykhs served as mediators in establishing tribal boundaries.

The Naqshbandīyah order acquired political influence early: Shaykh Muḥammad Saʿīd (d. 1920) formed a clandestine political party (Ḥizb al-ʿAhd, Covenant Party) in 1914 and agitated against the British presence in Iraq. During the period of the monarchy, Shaykh Bahāʿ al-Dīn Bamarnī rose to prominence, counting Prime Minister Nūrī Saʿīd (d. 1958) as one of his murīds (disciples).


Yemen was traditionally a stronghold of the Fāsīyah Shādhilīyah under Shaykh Muḥammad Hisān. The shaykh's son was taken hostage by the Zaydī Imām Yaḥyā (r. 1904–1948) after the retreat of the Ottomans. The Zaydīs’ repressive policy continued under Imām Aḥmad (1948–1962) with the imprisonment and death of the shaykh himself. The Qādirī and Idrīsī ṭarīqahs were active in the coastal regions. The Qādirī aligned themselves with non-Marxist nationalists against the British in Aden.


Perhaps the most politically significant Turkish ṭarīqah was the Bektāshīyah, founded by the thirteenth-century Haji Bektash Veli. Its political importance derives from its exclusive links with the Janissaries, with whom Bektāshīs participated in rebellions against the Ottomans, notably the revolt of Kalenderoğlu in 1526/1527.

In 1812, Sultan Maḥmud II centralized control of the Saʿdīyah in one of its tekkes (lodges) in Istanbul. In 1826, he took more drastic action to control the ṭarīqahs and forcibly disbanded the Janissaries, destroying many Bektāshī tekkes at the same time. By 1836, the dervishes of Adrianople (Edirne) were required to possess certificates bearing the seal of their local shaykh, and in the same year the Şeyhülislâm (shaykh al-Islām) was authorized to confirm the elections of shaykhs.

Government involvement in Sufism took a more personal turn in 1875, when Muḥammad Ẓāfir al-Madanī (d. 1903) met the future Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909). He acted as the sultan's adviser for three decades and attempted to use his influence to denigrate the Sanūsīyah and promote the Madanīyah.

The Naqshbandī shaykh Saʿīd's Kurdish revolt of 1923 was used by Atatürk as a pretext to eradicate what he considered a subversive political movement, and all tekkes were commanded to close “voluntarily” in December 1925. The Halveti-Cerrahi ṭarīqah was the only one to defy the ban and was tolerated as a “folkloric center.” It appears that many of the other orders were only forced underground, as by 1952 Turkish Bektāshīs alone were said to number 30,000.

The unanticipated result of the official closure of the tekkes was that Ṣūfī energy was channelled to more overtly political ends. Bediüzzaman Said Nursî's Nurculuk movement was more of a “voluntary membership association” than a ṭarīqah in the classical sense, although its roots are firmly in the Naqshbandī tradition. This is illustrated by Nursî's incorporation of mystical vocabulary from the works of Ibn ʿArabī into a framework of political activity, in an attempt to appeal to the literary and doctrinal tastes of his readership. The movement acquired some influence in Turkish politics from 1950 onward as the governing Democratic Party adopted a more favorable attitude toward Islam. The Naqshbandīs themselves also benefited from this change, with the Adalet Partisi fielding a former Naqshbandī functionary as its presidential candidate in the elections of 1980.


Premodern Iran provides a conspicuous example of Sufism as a vehicle for dissent, which later came to personify the establishment. Shāh Ismāʿīl Ṣafavī, the founder of the Ṣafavid Dynasty, came from a Ṣūfī family with considerable influence as spiritual teachers in Ardabīl. Under his leadership the Ṣafavī order spread to Shirvan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and the rest of present-day Iran. In 1501 Ismāʿīl established the Ṣafavid dynasty after a long and intense campaign of religious propaganda, and Sunnism virtually disappeared from Iran.

Tension later developed between the Shīʿī mujtahīds and the Ṣūfīs, who objected to the imposition of ʿUṣūlī scholasticism. Two mujtahīds rose to fame in this respect at the end of the eighteenth century: Muḥammad Bāqir Bihbahānī (d. 1780/81) and his son ʿAlī (d. 1801/02), who was named “Ṣūfī-Killer” for his cruel persecution of anti-mujtahidī dissent.

However, a dissenting tradition of Ṣūfīs and philosophical leanings persisted through the mid-nineteenth century. The Shaykhī school, which looked to the examples of Shaykh Aḥmad Ahsāʿī (d. 1826) and Kāẓim Rashtī (d. 1844), tried to penetrate the establishment and succeeded in obtaining patronage from the ruling Qājārs. They rejected orthodox millenarian eschatology in favor of a humanistic adaptation of the evolution toward the “perfect man” (al-insān al-kāmil), originally a Ṣūfī-Ismāʿīlī concept.

The Shaykhī movement coalesced around Muḥammad Karīm Khān Kirmānī (d. 1871), a Qājār prince and a disciple of Rashtī. Although it was not a Ṣūfī movement in the strictest sense, it did formalize metaphysical and eschatological tenets which had previously been esoterically concealed by Aḥṣāʿī and Rashtī. Muḥammad Karīm Khān accused the mujtahids of governing by force and offered an alternative hierarchical schema which placed them just above the common people and beneath the nujabāʿ (those who call to God; literally, nobles) and the nuqabāʿ (those with perfect knowledge; literally, leaders). The only distinguishing feature of this expression of the ḥukūmah bāṭiniyah (order for the inner self) is that Muḥammad Karīm Khān placed himself at the top of the hierarchy as “the Qājār prince turned philosopher-king” (Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran, Syracuse, 1982, p. 78).

North Caucasus.

The Naqshbandīyah and Qādirīyah have traditionally been strong and politically active in this region, providing a rallying point for local populations and a focus for coordinated resistance to colonial incursions. The Naqshbandīyah spread into Daghestan and Chechnya at the end of the eighteenth century, while the Qādirīyah appeared in the second half of the nineteenth. Each has a distinctive social and political profile, and some branches act as clandestine political parties.

The North Caucasian Naqshbandīyah's Shaykh Manṣūr Ushurma, who waged jihād against the Russians from 1782 to 1791, was apparently initiated into the ṭarīqah by a Bukharan Naqshbandī traveling to Mecca. He defeated a Russian force on the river Sunzha in 1785 and gained support in Chechnya, North Daghestan, and Kuban, but he was captured at Anapa in 1791 and died in the fortress of Schlüsselburg in St. Petersburg in 1793.

The Naqshbandīyah became active again in the 1820s, rising in Shirvan under the Ottoman Shaykh Muḥammad Effendi. This was the beginning of a fierce and drawn-out jihād, the “Murid movement” of Russian sources. This war was sustained mainly by two of Muḥammad Effendi's murīds, Ghāzī Muḥammad and Imām Shāmil, who coordinated the formidable Caucasian mountaineers against the Russians. After Imām Shāmil surrendered in 1856 and his last stronghold was taken in 1859, the ṭarīqah went back underground.

After this defeat, the Qādirīyah appeared and quickly gained popularity. Introduced by the Daghestani Kunta Haji Kishiev (d. 1867), it initially preached mystical detachment but nonetheless developed an ideology of resistance. Outlawed by the authorities in the 1860s, the ṭarīqah played a prominent part—with the Naqshbandīs, many of whom were initiated into it—in the anti-Russian revolt in Daghestan and Chechnya (1877–1878). More uprisings followed after the Bolshevik Revolution: the Naqshbandīs, under Imam Najmuddin of Gotzo and Shaykh Uzun Haji, fought first against the White armies of General A. I. Denikin in 1918–1920 and subsequently against the Red Army before being defeated in 1925. Some remained loyal to the Soviets, but many partisan leaders were killed in Stalin's purges. Other Naqshbandī and Qādirī uprisings occurred in the region in 1928, 1934, and 1940–1942.

The Naqshbandīs have also been active in northern Azerbaijan, eastern and southern Turkmenistan, the Karakalpak Republic (of Uzbekistan), and the Ferghana Valley, especially in Kyrgyzstan. The Ferghana Valley saw the rise of the Naqshbandī Basmachi Movement in 1918, which was crushed in 1928 by the Red Army. One significant consequence of this defeat was the politicization of the Yasawīyah ṭarīqah, which had led a largely apolitical existence in southern Kazakhstan since the twelfth century. A highly political organization called the “Hairy Ishans” (Chachtun Eshander), a branch of the Yasawīyah, was formed by Abumutalib Satybaldyev in the 1920s. The brotherhood quickly acquired a reputation in Soviet intelligence circles for terrorist activity. Thirty-two members were executed in 1936, after which the movement went underground. The organization is said to have been impervious to Soviet agents, while itself succeeding in infiltrating Communist Party organizations.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the modern-reformist Jadīdī movement spread northward from Turkey into Russia, where it was represented by Naqshbandīs such as Alimjan Barudi (d. 1921). Barudi founded the Ittifak-i Müslümin (Ittifāq al-Muslimīn) party in 1905 and was muftī of Orenburg from 1920–1021. In 1943 the Naqshbandī Jadīdist ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Rasūlī signed an agreement with Stalin normalizing relations between the Soviet Muslim establishment and the government. State-sponsored Islam, represented by the Spiritual Boards of Central Asia and Kazakhstan and the North Caucasus and Daghestan, was used thereafter as a propaganda weapon against Ṣūfī (or “parallel”) Islam. Fatwās were pronounced against pilgrimages to holy sites, combining Soviet political expediency with Wahhābī religious doctrine. However, both the official and parallel wings of Islam faced the same materialist threat, and the fact that the official muftīs were often from Naqshbandī families prevented direct attacks on Sufism itself. Consequently, Soviet control of the ṭarīqahs was not conspicuously successful. In Central Asia in 1979 there were at least 500,000 Ṣūfīs out of a total population of 27 million, and in Daghestan and Checheno-Ingush there were some 200,000 adepts.


Ṣūfī influence in China dates back to the Mongols, by whom shaykhs were given positions of influence in government. Their standing was reduced after the eclipse of Mongol power in 1368, which obliged the Muslims to integrate themselves more fully into Chinese society. However, the ṭarīqahs remained operational, if not conspicuous.

In 1644 the Manchus established the Qing dynasty, expanding the Chinese empire and effectively annexing one-third of Muslim Central Asia. They attempted to keep the various ethnic elements of the empire separate but were only partially successful. The problem was exacerbated by the activist Naqshbandī tradition, which was established in Xinjiang by Isḥāq Walī (d. 1599). The Qing were thus poorly placed to contain the wave of reformist preaching which began to reach the region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Naqshbandī shaykh Ma Mingxin (d. 1781) performed the ḥajj and studied in Bukhara and Yemen before returning to China in 1761. Ma Mingxin was of the Jahrīyah school of Naqshbandīs, who favored the vocal dhikr (prayer). He composed a poem celebrating the birth of the Prophet which won him fame at the expense of the Khūfīyah, who preferred silent invocation. The Khūfīyah accused the Jahrīyah of sedition and helped the Qing government put down the “rebels” in 1781, collaborating again with the authorities in an attempt to exterminate them in 1784. However, the Jahrīyah survived, developing a hereditary succession and modifying their reformist tendencies.

A liberation movement developed in Xinjiang under the leadership of the Naqshbandī shaykh Jahāngīr, who launched a jihād against Qing domination in 1817. The Kashgarīs joined the rebellion a few years later, which failed when Jahāngīr was captured in 1828. Internal feuding split the Naqshbandīs thereafter, and the British made use of a Naqshbandī, Aḥmad Shāh, as an informer on political affairs in Xinjiang at this time.

Naqshbandī jihāds were launched by Rāshidīn Khān Khawājah in Kuqa and by the Mujaddidī ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Haḍrah in Yarkand (1864). The Naqshbandīs probably also inspired the revolts of Jin Xiangyin and the Kyrghiz chief Ṣiddīq Beg in Kashgar, as well as that of Tuo Ming in Ürümqi in the same year. But the Qing reconquered southern Xinjiang in 1877.

In twentieth-century China the political influence of the ṭarīqahs has declined, although the effect of the Cultural Revolution on Islam in general is not yet known. The Naqshbandīs retained enough influence for the Jahrī chief Ma Zhenwu to be denounced by the government for “exploitation” in 1958.

Indian Subcontinent.

Four Ṣūfī orders—the Chishtīs, the Suhrawardīs, the Qādirīs, and the Naqshbandīs—came to India at different times. They were prominent in the Indian subcontinent, although they differed in their attitudes towards the rulers and the politics of their time. Almost all saints of the Chishtī order refrained from visiting the kings of the Mongols. Khwajah Qutb al-Dīn Bakhtiyar (d. 1235 CE) was offered the post of shaykh al-Islām in the court of Sultan Shams al-Dīn Iltutmish (r. 1211–1236) in Delhi, but he refused to accept it. Similarly Shaykh Niẓāmuddīn Auliyāʿ (d. 1325) declined the offer of a grant (idrār) and government service (shughl) made by Sultan ʿAlāʿ al-Dīn Khaljī (r. 1296–1316). The Ṣūfī shaykh did, however, extend moral support to the sultan in the construction of public works. Similarly Shaykh Farīd al-Dīn Ganj-i Shakar (1175–1265) warned his disciples against consorting with kings and princes. The policy of maintaining deference and distance from the world of monarchy was not always easy to follow and it required extraordinary moral courage to resist the threats of the intrusive ways of the rulers. Admittedly, there were other levels where a constant exchange of symbol and material took place between the khānqāh and the imperial court. Notwithstanding the Chishtī order's aversion to the state, the Mughal emperors from Akbar (1556–1605) to the end of the dynasty in 1857 were devoted to the Chishtī khānqāhs at various levels of affiliation.

In sharp contrast to the Chishtī attitude towards the state, the saints of the Suhrawardī order did not mind maintaining an association with the rulers as long as they could put forward their petitions and arguments on behalf of the people. One important saint of this order, Shaykh Rukn al-Dīn (d. 1334) of Multan, was revered by all monarchs of the Delhi sultanate, from Sultan Alauddin Khalji to Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughlaq (1325–1351). People filled the saint's palanquin with petitions on his way to the sultan's court in the belief that by establishing personal contact with the rulers they could bring about a change in their outlook.

Khwajah Baqi Billāh was a well-known Naqshbandī saint who established the order in India in the closing years of the sixteenth century. Steeped in the Naqshbandī principles of organization and communication, he was able to disseminate the message to commoner and Mughal noble with equal facility. In five years he managed to build up a network of adherents to the Naqshbandī order whose social base included diverse constituents: the ʿulamāʿ, the Ṣūfīs, the landowners (māliks), and the officials (manṣabdārs). One of his distinguished disciples, Shaykh Ahmad of Sirhind in Punjab (b. 1563), reorganized the doctrinal basis of the order. Like the preceding Naqshbandī saints of Central Asia, he demanded from his disciples a strict adherence to the Qurʿān and the sunnah. He was critical of the “divine religion” (dīn-i ilāhī) of Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, which was composed of an eclectic mix of elements from different religions. Shaykh Ahmad's viewpoint influenced the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahāngīr, who promised to defend the law of Islam. The sixth Mughal emperor Awrangzīb, who received his religious and spiritual training from the sons and grandsons of Shaykh Ahmad, had a decisive influence of the Naqshbandī order in his religious views and policies towards other religions. His illustrious descendants include Shah Walī Allāh (d. 1762), Shah ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (d. 1824), and Sayyid Aḥmad Barelwī (d. 1831). This part of its spiritual lineage brought the Naqshbandī order into direct confrontation with the colonial authorities as it did in other parts of the world.

Malay Archipelago.

The spread of Islam in the Malay Archipelago after the fourteenth century is attributed to the development of Ṣūfī orders. Local Malay and Javanese chronicles—the Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu) and the Hikayat Raja-Raja Pasai (the Chronicles of Pasai)—support the view that the Ṣūfī orders flourished because of their nonintrusive approach and a willingness to adopt the Malay language. The Ṣūfī worldview was not confined to the common believers but influenced even the elites and rulers of the time. During the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah (1459–1477) in the Malaccan Empire, there was great interest in the study of Ṣūfī literature. When the Portuguese conquered the empire, its ruler, Sultan Mahmud (1488–1511), was the disciple of a Ṣūfī teacher.

Mawlana Abu Bakr was a major figure in the spread of Islam in the Philippines and the establishment of the Sulu Sultanate in the second half of fifteenth century. The Sulu resistance to later foreign intrusions was supported by Ṣūfī orders and their networks. The success of Ṣūfī orders in the Malay Archipelago is often attributed to their flexible and characteristically nonintrusive approach in their encounters with Hindu and Buddhist mystics. The Ṣūfī orders refrained from rejecting existing religious doctrines but sought to use their idiom for communicating a Ṣūfī message. Thus, the Javanese Ṣūfī writings employed pre-Islamic Malay-Javanese terms. Some Sufis used wayangs (theaters) where such a medium was popular.

North Africa.

The Sanūsīyah order provides one of the clearest examples of the development of a ṭarīqah along political lines. Founded by Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Sanūsī (d. 1859), a murīd (disciple) of Aḥmad ibn Idrīs (d. 1837), the order established its first zāwiyah near Mecca in 1838, but it was forced to leave in 1840 because of local disapproval of Sufism. A zāwiyah was founded at Jabal Akhḍar (in Cyrenaica) in 1843, before the center of the ṭarīqah was moved south to Jaghbūb in 1856, to avoid Turkish interference and to strengthen its influence in the central Sahara. A network of zāwiyahs developed, forming a self-sufficient Muslim community. These zāwiyahs became centers of tribal unity for the nomads, as well as providing buffer zones between tribes and a sacred space in which disputes could be discussed.

When the Italians invaded Cyrenaica in 1911 they met fierce resistance from the Sanūsīyah under the leadership of Sīdī Aḥmad al-Sharīf, who had fought the French in the Sahara (1902–1912). It was only in the face of this foreign threat that the Sanūsīs moved closer to the Turks, who provided limited material assistance but withdrew in 1912. In 1916 the Sanūsīyah, led by the young Muḥammad Idrīs al-Sanūsī (later king of Libya) opened negotiations with the Italians and British. Resistance was resumed in the Second Italo-Sanūsī War (1923–1932) by ʿUmar al-Mukhtār, who was captured and executed in 1931.

In Algeria, the Darqāwī ʿAbd al-Qādir ibn al-Sharīf agitated in the Turkish province of Oran (1803–1809) and marched unsuccessfully against the Turks during the English bombardment of Algiers in 1816. When French forces arrived in the summer of 1830, the Algerians organized a resistance movement. Command was given to Amīr ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʿirī, a young shaykh of the Qādirī order. He was also initiated into the Naqshbandīyah, the Shādhilīyah, and the Tijānīyah. ʿAbd al-Qādir's tactical brilliance frustrated the French for fifteen years, during which he had to contend with the uncertain loyalties of the tribes as well as the opposition of the Darqāwīs, who suspected him of making common cause with the French after the treaties of Desmichels (1834) and Tafna (1837). He was imprisoned in France (1847–1852) and then exiled to Damascus, where he died in 1883. He was buried next to the tomb of Ibn al-ʿArabī, and his body was repatriated after Algerian independence.

It seems that some of the Qādirīyah modified their opposition after the defeat of their leader. In 1879, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbbās supported the French in the insurrection in the Aurès Mountains, and the ṭarīqah helped to extend French influence into the Sahara at Wargla and El Oued. Their leader, Muḥammad ibn al-Ṭayyib, died fighting on the French side at the battle of Charouïne in 1901.

Moroccan ṭarīqahs have a long history of involvement at all levels of society. The Darqāwīs supported the authorities in return for Mawlāy Sulaymān's encouragement of their shaykh, Mawlāy al-ʿArabī al-Darqāwī (d. 1823), who was, however, imprisoned later by the sultan. He was freed after Mawlāy Sulaymān's death in 1822. The ṭarīqah also opposed French ambitions in eastern Morocco and accused its own government of appeasement in 1887. In the northeast in 1907, the Banū Snassen rose against the French, who had occupied their lands. This was followed in 1910 by the attempt of Māʿ al-ʿAynayn, the twelfth son of the Mauritanian Qādirī shaykh Muḥammad Faḍl (d. 1869), to force his own accession to the Moroccan throne.

The Rif War (1925–1930) was a larger-scale revolt. Although its leader Abd el-Krim (more properly, ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Khaṭṭābī) and many of his followers were Ṣūfīs, it was more of a national liberation struggle than a Ṣūfī movement.

West Africa.

By the end of the eighteenth century the new enthusiasm for Islamic unity and reform reached West Africa through the Qādirīyah order, exemplified by the leadership of Sīdī al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī (d. 1811) and Shaykh Usuman Dan Fodio (d. 1817). A revivalist campaign was conducted in Gobir, Zamfara, Katsina, and Kebbi (1774–1804), and a jihād against the Hausa kings in 1797. By 1812, a Muslim Fulani empire had come into being, ruled by Shaykh Usuman's brother ʿAbd Allāh ibn Muḥammad and his second son, Muhammadu Bello (d. 1837), with Shaykh Usuman in overall command as caliph. The momentum of conquest was maintained by one of Shaykh Usuman's disciples, Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr, who launched a jihād in Masina in the second decade of the nineteenth century, claiming to be the renewer of the thirteenth lunar century. Another Qādirī jihād followed in 1850 under al-Ḥājj Maḥmūd, who had renewed his Qādirī affiliation in Syria, pledging to conquer his own country and build a mosque in every town he took. However, his ambitions clashed with local interests, as Muslims of the Dyula ethnic group had long-established trade links with non-Muslims, and al-Ḥājj Maḥmūd met with limited success.

The nineteenth century also saw the introduction into West Africa of the Tijānīyah order. Named after Shaykh Aḥmad al-Tijānī (d. 1815), the ṭarīqah was championed by al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tall (d. 1864) and received early support from Muhammadu Bello. However, the Qādirī establishment of the Sokoto caliphate became more rigid after Bello's death, and the Tijānīyah acquired the unofficial status of political opposition. This tension remains in present-day Nigeria.

The predominant figure in the history of Mauritanian Sufism is the Qādirī shaykh Sīdīyah al-Kabīr (d. 1868), who attracted a large nomadic following. He founded a central zāwiyah at Bontilimit for administrative and political reasons, while remaining mindful of his migratory community's needs. He was a skilled political mediator, acting as a kingmaker among the warrior Ḥassānīs.

The ṭarīqahs arrived in Senegal from North Africa in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many mediated between the French colonists and the rural inhabitants, thus enjoying the political advantage of French support. However, not all enjoyed the confidence of the French.

In 1966 Abdou Lahat M’Backé became the leader of the Murīdīyah order. Although he wished to seem aloof from politics, appearances were maintained; the government continued to be represented at Murīdīyah celebrations, and the ṭarīqah was still expected to support rural development programs. Government assistance was given for the development of Touba, the Murīd capital, in return for which Abdou Lahat agreed to the closure of the Murīd-controlled black market, which had grown as a result of economic hardship and urban migration after World War II.

The government was also present at major festivals of the Tijānīyah order and gave material support to the Layenne ṭarīqah, in spite of its opposition to government legal reforms. The Murīds, meanwhile, hardened their attitudes to other ṭarīqahs in the late 1970s, while the Tijānīyah took a reformist line in criticizing controversial aspects of Murīdīyah.


The Qādirīyah and Shādhilīyah orders dominated Sudanese Sufism from the sixteenth century, giving some ground to reformist ṭarīqahs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sudan also came under foreign influence from the North with the Turco-Egyptian conquest of 1821, which contributed to the politicization of the ṭarīqahs, some of which (e.g., the Rāshidīyah and Majdhūbīyah) actively resisted the invaders. Others were used as mediators, such as the Khatmīyah, which supported government intervention in the rebellion of Kassala (1865).

The Ṣūfī order that led the Mahdist campaign (1881–1885), whose traditions spoke of a mahdī (savior) appearing in the West, had been violently opposed to the Turco-Egyptian government since 1821.

In establishing the Mahdist state, Muḥammad Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh, the Mahdī, aimed to supersede the ṭarīqahs and even went so far as to suppress them. However, his devotional manual (rātib), which was banned by the governor-general, provides evidence for a Ṣūfī perspective underlying his millenarian and reformist ambitions.

After the fall of the Madhī in 1898 and the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898–1956), the ṭarīqahs regained some of their influence; although the British never formally recognized them, they discovered a convenient anti-Mahdist bulwark in the Khatmīyah. During World War I, however, the British feared that Mahdist sympathizers might support the Turks and decided to encourage a “controlled reconstruction” of the Mahdīyah.

The ṭarīqahs became increasingly politicized before and after independence (1956), and the rift between the Khatmīyah and the Mahdīyah persisted. The Khatmīyah remained loyal to the government but politically aloof and maintained privileged links with Egypt. The Hindīyah (originally a pro-Madhist ṭarīqah) developed a highly centralized structure and radical political commitment; Sayyid Ṣiddīq Yūsuf al-Hindī (d. 1982) was a staunch opponent of the Nimeiri regime.

Horn of Africa and East Africa.

By the nineteenth century the Qādirīyah order had become firmly established in rural Ethiopia and Somalia, forming a barrier against the reformist Idrīsī ṭarīqahs. Only the Ṣāliḥīyah (founded by Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ, d. 1917) achieved any significant penetration. A resistance campaign was waged against the Italians and the British (1899–1920) under the leadership of Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh Ḥasan, who was also hostile to nonaligned brotherhoods such as the Aḥmadīyah and the Qādirīyah. One of his followers assassinated a leading Qādirī shaykh, Uways ibn Muḥammad al-Barawī, in 1909.

Many Ṣūfī founders of the Muslim Association of Tanganyika became leaders of the Tanganyika African Association (founded ca. 1929), which formed the basis of a later independence movements.

Contemporary Europe and North America.

In the larger context of labor immigration and transnationalism, there has been a movement of population from the Muslim world to Europe and North America. The international migration of Muslims is accompanied by a movement of Ṣūfī orders beyond their places of origin. Most of the Ṣūfī orders find themselves in competition with other Islamic groups and traditions for the hearts and minds of Muslims. This is a variant of politics in the cultural domain where the Ṣūfī orders cater to the cultural specificities of their adherents who are dealing with the problems related to identity, dislocation, and settlement at the place of immigration.

Many of the Ṣūfī orders in Africa and Asia are also represented in Europe and United States. Prominent among them is the Naqshbandī order. Founded in Central Asia in the fourteenth century by Bahāʿal-Dīn Naqshband, it is usually described as law abiding, meditative, and serious about missionary invitation (daʿwah). Naqshbandī followers are mostly immigrants from Asia, but there are also many local converts. Especially significant in the European context is a Naqshbandī Haqqanī network headed by Shaykh Muḥammad Nāẓīm al-Haqqanī from Cyprus since the 1970s. Many Turkish Cypriots who immigrated to European countries are his followers. The Naqshbandī Haqqanīs in the United States, headed by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, are active in the public sphere and in interfaith projects, demonstrating the important place of the Ṣūfī order in building a positive image of Muslims and Islam in the United States.

The Nīʿmatullāhī order, which was founded in the fourteenth century by Shāh Nīʿmat Allāh Walī in Syria, has a sizeable following in Europe. It is a Shīʿī order that has a strong position in Iran. Ṣūfī orders that have established themselves among immigrants from various parts of Africa include the Qādirīyah, Tijānīyah, Murīdīyah, and Shādhilīyah. The Shādhilīyah order has historically been engaged in juristic matters. Its engagement with issues of Islam in Europe helped in the development of what has come to be known as the Euro-Islam.

[See also ISLAM and SUFISM, subentry on ṢūFī ORDERS. Many of the specific orders and their founders are subjects of independent entries. See also the entries on individual countries.


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